‘Red Dwarf’: Ten Years Later

Image via BBC.co.uk

When I was 12, I began my second year at senior school in England. This was the “big” school and I had spent much of the first year in relative obscurity. With a few friends, but no one especially close, it wasn’t proving to be a stellar experience. Then a stellar sci-fi show injected new hope into my school social standing. While getting ready for gym one day, I heard a familiar song being sung by a fellow classmate. “It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere…” and as I finished the theme song’s refrain, I became fast friends with someone who would give me a confidence I had never known, and introduce me to many more people. I credit the BBC sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf with some of my most memorable friendships, and for my remaining years far outstripping my first in terms of camaraderie and fun.

Red Dwarf is an irreverent comedy set aboard a deep space mining ship. It follows the adventures of Dave Lister, the last man alive after an explosion on the ship kills everyone else. When he is awakened from deep freeze, three million years later, he finds that his only companions are a hologram of his bunk mate, Arnold Rimmer; the ship’s computer, Holly; an Android, Kryten; and a creature that evolved from his cat, named Cat. The show began with a low budget but a huge amount of humor and bizarre goings on. The later seasons did not agree with me so much, and I’m not usually one for re-hashing old ideas, but the thought of this show being re-booted, now that gets my original geek going.

What makes this even more exciting is that everyone is on board. Two seasons are anticipated and the original cast—Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Robert Llewellyn, and Danny John-Jules—have all signed up. The new series are also being written by the show’s creator, Doug Naylor. This has all the makings of a smegging fantastic comeback! If you are looking for some obscure British comedy to watch, you can catch Red Dwarf on Hulu.

GeekMom: Comic Book Corner — Sci-Fi Love and a Strong-Willed Female Outlaw

Robyn Hood #1 \ Art by Larry Watts
Robyn Hood #1. Art by Larry Watts.

Happy Comic Release Day! Welcome to another installment of GeekMom Comic Book Corner, where we recap our adventures in comics for the week. Today, I’m excited to check out a very early release of Pat Shand’s latest creation in Robyn Hood #1 and Corrina sees what happens when you take a fairy tale, throw in a touch of love, and finish if off with some sci-fi.

Dakster Sullivan — Robyn Hood #1 written by Pat Shand and art by Larry Watts

The first issue of Robyn Hood’s ongoing series was everything I could ask for and more. We get an explanation as to why Marian cut off her long locks and what she and Robyn have been doing since coming back from Myst.

Now working as private detectives, Robyn does the dirty work and Marian works the office. By “works,” I mean she has declared that everything technology is wicked and cursed. (I think I know a few people like that at my office.)

This first story arc takes us into the underground of a soul-stealing priest and the ending was enough of a cliffhanger to leave us hanging without pulling our hair out screaming, “What happens next?!?!?”

For cosplay purposes, I like how they have Robyn wearing a glamour lens during some of her escapades. It makes it a lot easier to not get trolled at conventions for not having a mystical glowing eye.

At the end of the issue, I couldn’t be happier for the adventure Pat Shand has put us on and let me say that it’s about freaking time Robyn got her own series instead of a little five-issue mini-series.

Curious to know what I’m pulling this week? Check out my pull list on Comixology.

Age Recommendation: Teens for mature content

Trillium by Jeff Lemire, from Vertigo Comics.

Corrina — Trillium by Jeff Lemire, writer and illustrator, due out on 8/12/2014

This is a love story, a fairy tale, and a hard science-fiction story. It’s a story of the loss of the entire human race on one side, and the loss of innocence of a generation on the other side. It should be impossible to pack this much into one story, but Lemire succeeds, especially at knowing when to back off on words and let the pictures tell the story.

The two leads of Trillium are at opposite ends of space and time. Nika Temsmith is a botanist searching for a flower that can cure a rapidly-spreading plague taking out the human race. At the heart of her search is a mysterious pyramid on an alien world. William Pike is a renowned explorer scarred by his experience as a soldier in World War I, and at the heart of his explorations is a mysterious pyramid.

William and Nika both go into the pyramid, but they don’t go out quite the same. To say more would give away all of the twists and turns in this story. It’s beautiful, sad, and the artwork is complimentary to how jagged the worlds of Nika and William can be.

Age level: 10 + for mature themes

bodies #1
Cover by Fiona Stephenson, copyright Vertigo Comics.

Bodies #1 written by Si Spencer, art by Meghan Hetrick-Murante, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay, and Phil Winslade

Four time periods, four highly unusual detectives, one setting (London), and one body that appears to be the same in all their worlds; that’s the premise of this new Vertigo series. The time periods are 1890s Victorian-era London, 1940s London, modern-day London featuring a multi-cultural detective, and 2050, with a detective who has trouble even remembering her own name. Each time period is handled by one writer, with the Victorian setting being the most familiar to Sherlock Holmes readers, while the future setting is the trippiest and most unusual.

It all works, at least in this first issue, with the detectives and their cases introduced well, with no one setting crowding out the others. It’s a delicate balance—but so far, so good.

Age level: Teen +

To check out what is coming to a comic book store near you today, head over to ComiXology for a complete list of new releases!

Guardians of the Galaxy Cast Reach for the Stars

Guardians of the Galaxy © Marvel Comics
Image courtesy Disney.

If there’s one thing director James Gunn got right when making Guardians of the Galaxy (and he actually got a lot right), it was the casting. From top to bottom, the assembled group of talent on screen is truly impressive. I mean, we’re talking big names like Glenn Close and John C. Reilly in supporting roles with very little screen time (they make it count, naturally). As for the main cast, the film relies on each of them to bring a range of complex, sometimes even contradictory, qualities to their characters. They all have the capacity to be both noble and roguish, tough and vulnerable, deathly serious and lighthearted. Part of the fun of the film is watching the titular team come together as a group.

A couple weeks ago I got to watch many of those actors come together in real life at a press conference to promote the film. In attendance at the event were stars Chris Pratt, Michael Rooker, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Benicio del Toro, and director James Gunn. According to Gunn, it was the first time they’d been assembled in one place (Diesel provided the voice of Groot but didn’t play the character on screen and del Toro’s role is basically an extended cameo).

Pratt grounds the film as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, an ordinary human who was abducted from Earth as a child and raised by Yondu (Rooker), the leader of a group of intergalactic outlaws known as Ravagers. When Peter steals a mysterious orb he becomes the target of multiple pursuers, including bounty hunters Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Diesel), as well as a trained assassin named Gamora (Saldana). They all eventually cross paths with Drax the Destroyer (Bautista), a convict seeking to avenge the deaths of his wife and child, and must put their differences aside to face an even greater threat that could mean the destruction of the entire galaxy.

“I’m like so emotional right now,” Gunn said as the press conference began. “Because I’ve missed these guys so much. I luckily got to spend some time with Zoe and Dave last week, but everybody else I haven’t been around and it’s just an amazing moment for us, I think.”

Gunn wasn’t just passionate about his cast, he animatedly talked about the origins of the project and what it meant to him to bring these characters to life on screen. When asked about taking on a lesser-known property from the Marvel universe, he said that it was “liberating.”

“I think I would have had a harder time trying to fit into the regular Marvel scheme of things,” he said. “This gave me a chance to take what I loved about Marvel movies and Marvel comics and create a whole new universe, which really has been the most exciting thing in my entire professional career.”

Guardians of the Galaxy © Marvel Comics
Image courtesy Disney.

For Pratt, it was also a big step. Until last year he was probably best known as lovable doofus Andy in Parks and Recreation. Then, he lent his voice to the lead role in the blockbuster film The Lego Movie, followed by this starring role in Guardians of Galaxy. He’ll next be seen on the big screen running from dinosaurs in next year’s Jurassic World. Despite all the increased attention, Pratt taking this new career direction in stride.

“I’d been sort of having an identity crisis as an actor,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was, if I was a action guy or a comedy guy. And I thought maybe I could do a combination of both, but there’s nothing out there that’s like it. [I thought] maybe I have to develop something, And my manager just kept saying, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy, man.’ I said, ‘All right, maybe you’re right. Let’s go meet on it.’ And then James said, ‘I just want somebody to do their thing.’ And part of me thought, ‘Okay, well then I’ll just do my thing and if it’s not right, that’s okay.’ But I had an idea what that thing was and it was the thing that I got to do in this movie.”

Each of the actors in turn got a chance to talk about what their role in the film meant to them and what attracted them to it. Though Saldana was cast late in the process and arrived last on set, she said had a very specific view of how to portray Gamora when she arrived.

“I just didn’t want Gamora to look like any typical action person that’s just like very martial artsy and just does that Underworld jump and lands and the ground breaks and shit,” she said. “I wanted her to be a little more graceful and sleek, very classy in the way that she fights.”

The inspiration hit her, she said, as she was watching some footage of a Spanish bullfighter in action: “I’ve never seen somebody move so smoothly. It was just such a seductive dance. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s Gamora.’ She’s a woman and she just has to be very seductive in the way that she tricks her enemy into falling into their own death. And I thought. ‘Well, that’ll be interesting to do. I’ve never done that.'”

Guardians of the Galaxy © Marvel Comics
Image courtesy Disney.

Just as Gunn gave Saldana the freedom to play with her character, del Toro also appreciated the way the directed allowed him to take chances with the smaller role of Taneleer Tivan, aka The Collector.

“I felt like I could explore the character in every way I would have wanted to,” del Toro said. “And James was very supportive to taking chances and trying different things. And I felt like an animal that grows up in a cage and suddenly you open the door and he comes out and he’s tentative to take chances. James was very, very nice to me to allow me to like go, go, go, go, go. And so at the end I was like, ‘Oh, I could have done this, I could have done that.’ But it was a great feeling.”

One of the most heartfelt moments in the press conference came when Diesel talked about the timing of the project, coming as it did on the heels of the death of his friend and Fast and Furious co-star Paul Walker in November of 2013. As a gentle, humanoid tree, Groot symbolized growth and regeneration in a way that spoke deeply to the actor at the time.

“It was at a very important time when I did this movie because it was in December and it was the first time I was coming around humans again and the first time I was working again,” Diesel said. “And there was something very therapeutic about in my personal life— I guess in my professional life, too—dealing with death and then playing a character that celebrates life in the way that Groot celebrates life. I took my kids to a screening to see this movie and they walk around the house reciting Star-Lord, Gamora, and all the characters. Something very beautiful happened in playing this role. Something that as an actor I never would have imagined.”

Guardians of the Galaxy opens in theaters on Aug. 1.

Green Tara: Sci-Fi Eco Adventure

green tara_print_front_cover_cropped_400dpi
Image By KH. Brower

Ecology gets a space-adventure for young adults in a new book by K.H. Brower.  Green Tara: A Bosque Family Adventure is set in a future where Earth can no longer sustain life; colonists have gone off to live without our beloved planet.

However, there is one family, the Bosques, that had a plan long ago to someday renew the Earth. Fast-forward several generations to the main character of the novel, Virginia Bosque: a teenage girl living on a large space-ship with an emotionally distant father, a furry pet robot, and a cousin named Gordy. Her mother disappeared when she was five, and Dot (the furry pet robot) is her only link, since her mother designed and programmed it. Gordy’s mother is also gone. Life on the ship is strict due to the Triumverate, a corporate controlled government that rules the humans still around the universe. Virginia’s only goal in life is to fly freely in her Blast- a small spaceship she is still too young to pilot on her own.

Purely by accident, Virginia and Gordy discover details about their missing mothers, and the Bosque family mission to bring life back to Earth. They set off on an adventure to a secret planet called Tara where humans have been nurturing Earth plants and animals. They find Virginia’s mother, but it is not the loving reunion Virginia always hoped for. In fact, nothing is what Virginia hoped for. She is thrust into a role she was unprepared for, with parents who were never there for her, physically or emotionally. Written in first person, our heroine thinks Gordy and Dot are the only ones who seem to really care about her. She is overwhelmed with dealing with family issues, let alone saving Earth! But she has courage and hope.


The ecological message is there, but never forced beyond what is necessary for the plot, which I really appreciated. However, except for the lush vegetation described on Tara, the book lacked much in the way of description. I often found myself struggling to envision the physical sci-fi world Virginia was a part of, including the characters. I looked up later that this book was originally a script, which explains a lot. However, Virginia’s thoughts and emotions are well written and bring depth to the book that would otherwise just be a fun action novel. Gordy and Virginia are well-rounded characters, and I hope we get a story from Gordy’s point of view next.

Does Virginia help her family’s mission to restore life on Earth? Join a band of space-pirates (that is an option!)? Or figure out how to return to her previous life under the Triumverate? I won’t give away any more of the plot here, but Green Tara is full of action and emotion for ages nine and up.

Geekmom received a copy of the book for review purposes.

TNT Is Planning a Falling Skies Marathon

Noah Wyle stars in TNT's "Falling Skies." Image: © TNT/James Dittiger.
Noah Wyle stars in TNT’s “Falling Skies.” Image: © TNT/James Dittiger.

Everyone thought that Noah Wyle had gone crazy when he announced plans to leave ER after 11 seasons. Well, the former TV doctor decided to join forces with DreamWorks and Steven Spielberg, and now the trio is about to kick off the third season of Falling Skies.

Falling Skies takes place in Boston, just months after an alien attack. Wyle stars as a former Boston University history professor and current leader of the 2nd Massachusetts Militia Regiment. Of course, I could go into details about the plot points and characters from the first two seasons to help you catch up–or you could just watch the entire show yourself.

The first two seasons are currently available on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital download. However, why pay when you can catch all 20 episodes absolutely free? TNT just announced plans to air the first two seasons of Falling Skies, in their entirety, just a week before the season three premiere.

Get ready to fire up the DVR, people. The cable network will run the first season as a Memorial Day marathon, starting at 10:00 a.m. (ET/PT) on Monday, May 27. The second season will start on the following Saturday on June 1. If you’re just looking for a quick refresher from season two, TNT will run the back-half of that season on Saturday, June 8.

From there, Falling Skies will launch its third season with a two-hour television event on Sunday, June 9 at 9:00 p.m. According to TNT, Doug Jones, Gloria Reuben, Robert Sean Leonard, Stephen Collins and Terry O’Quinn will all make appearances during the upcoming season.

Nerd Rage, Doctor Who and Sonic Screwdrivers

Dalek, TARDIS, Doctor…and Sonic Screwdriver, Image: Nicole Wakelin

I’ve only recently discovered Doctor Who. Well, recent meaning the latest incarnations of him that began in 2005. I saw a few episodes back when I was a kid but they scared me so badly (cheesy Daleks and all) that even today they give me the creeps. I’m okay with big budget, 3D, in-your-face scary movies, but Tom Baker and that scarf on a television screen send me running every time.

Since I’ve been watching the new series though, I have completely fallen in love with the Doctor Who universe. Even the Daleks. Which is why last night I may have gotten into a bit of an argument with someone who not only doesn’t like The Doctor, but who thinks the sonic screwdriver is silly.

Yes, that’s right, there’s a bona fide nerd out there who puts Doctor Who on his list of things he should like but just can’t manage to watch. My first reaction was a gasp of disbelief, followed by mumbly stuttering sounds as I tried to form some kind of defense. But before I even had a chance he went on to disparage the sonic screwdriver. I know. What do you even say to that? If someone doesn’t “get” just how awesome a sonic screwdriver is, how useful, nifty, and just plain wonderful a gadget it is, how do those of us in the know even begin to explain?

I did my best to defend my beloved Doctor and may have convinced this lunatic, er, I mean this very nice guy, to watch a few episodes more, maybe. But once our conversation was over I just couldn’t get past the idea that he didn’t like the sonic screwdriver. He thought it was hokey. The more I thought about it the more the nerd rage burned in my chest. The sonic screwdriver is right it up there with some of the best sci-fi tools ever invented. I mean, it’s like someone saying they don’t get lightsabers! How can you not get lightsabers? It’s impossible. They’re shiny and cut through stuff and look cool slicing through the air, even more so when there are an uncountable number of them on a giant battlefield. (Deep breath)

I vented my nerd rage on twitter, and was mollified by the number of people that shook their head in sad agreement that, nice as this guy was, he was utterly wrong. Which, when you think about it, is the crux of every nerd rage filled argument ever waged. It’s not about seeing both sides or appreciating someone else’s opinion. In the Geekverse there can be only one opinion. It’s the one that we each hold dear and that makes it the only right one. Anyone who disagrees is completely and hopelessly wrong. Like this guy. And I have plenty of tweets to prove it next time we talk. Now I’m off to watch The Doctor save the world with his beautiful, wonderful and very cool sonic screwdriver.





Ray Bradbury: More Afraid of People Than Robots

Ray Bradbury’s dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451

For those of you who wouldn’t know, the Guardian Reading Group began with Ray Bradbury’s dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451, by readers’ choice.

That’s a great, revolutionary choice (so they said), that will especially appeal to us geek people in love with classical sci-fi, and to us parents looking for books to discuss with our children. Utopian and dystopian fiction is a fascinating subject, or so I think. I often study it with my sixteen and seventeen years old students.

If you never read it, “the novel presents a future American society where reading is outlawed and firemen start fires to burn books.” (Wikipedia)

You may, of course, read or reread the book, and discuss it part by part on the Guardian website, or follow the Guardian’s Reading group on Twitter. You may also read some companion posts on Guardian Books. They promised one on the novel’s historical context, Cold War and McCarthyism. They also provide a list of “further readings” to offer some background to Bradbury’s life and books.

Among these suggestions were two really delightful pieces for any geek.

One is a letter by Ray Bradbury himself, written in 1974 and transcripted on the lovely Letters of note website. Asked about “the danger of robots taking over our human world”, Bradbury writes a truly wonderful answer:

Can’t resist commenting on your fears of the Disney robots. Why aren’t you afraid of books, then? The fact is, of course, that people have been afraid of books, down through history. They are extensions of people, not people themselves. Any machine, any robot, is the sum total of the ways we use it. Why not knock down all robot camera devices and the means for reproducing the stuff that goes into such devices, things called projectors in theatres? A motion picture projector is a non-humanoid robot which repeats truths which we inject into it. Is it inhuman? Yes. Does it project human truths to humanize us more often than not? Yes.

The excuse could be made that we should burn all books because some books are dreadful.

We should mash all cars because some cars get in accidents because of the people driving them.

We should burn down all the theatres in the world because some films are trash, drivel.

So it is finally with the robots you say you fear. Why fear something? Why not create with it? Why not build robot teachers to help out in schools where teaching certain subjects is a bore for EVERYONE? Why not have Plato sitting in your Greek Class answering jolly questions about his Republic? I would love to experiment with that. I am not afraid of robots. I am afraid of people, people, people. I want them to remain human. I can help keep them human with the wise and lovely use of books, films, robots, and my own mind, hands, and heart.

I am afraid of Catholics killing Protestants and vice versa.

I am afraid of whites killing blacks and vice versa.

I am afraid of English killing Irish and vice versa.

I am afraid of young killing old and vice versa.

I am afraid of Communists killing Capitalists and vice versa.

But…robots? God, I love them. I will use them humanely to teach all of the above. My voice will speak out of them, and it will be a damned nice voice.

The second is a video tribute, written for the author’s 90th birthday by comedian Rachel Bloom. Be careful, it’s definitely not suitable for children under 18, as YouTube confirms! But the video is hilarious, and comforting in a strange way, thinking that old sci-fi writers can be strongly desirable in our time and place.

“Does the idea of book burning still resonate?” wonder The Guardian and its readers. It certainly does, as Banned Books Week will confirm in a few days.

Game Review: Star Trek Fleet Captains

Star Trek Fleet Captains by WizKids

One of the benefits of attending GenCon is that you can pick up copies of games before they’re scheduled to be in retail stores. I walk through the aisles very carefully, trying not to be lured in by something that I can simply buy as soon as I get home. Star Trek Fleet Captains, by WizKids, is not due on store shelves for at least 6 more weeks so it fit my requirements and was therefore carefully transported back with me at the end of the convention. Yesterday, I was thrilled to have a chance to play it through for the first time.

Starfleet Ships with Reference Cards

What struck me about it just while watching the demos was that ships and characters from different shows and movies were on the table together.  Star Trek Fleet Captains lets you create a fleet made up of the Enterprise A, Voyager and even the Enterprise E, which is just plain fun if you’re a Trekkie.  In all, you’ll get 12 Federation and 12 Klingon ships, each with a Clix dial on the base that let’s you adjust shields, weapons, sensors and engines as you battle each other to accomplish your missions.

You can choose to bump up your shields in anticipation of your opponent’s attack, but that may also cause a huge reduction in your engines or weapons.  The choice is up to you and will be completely dependent on the cards you draw and the battles you fight.  There’s also a reference card for each ship, so you can see exactly what you sacrifice and gain with each turn of the dial, as well as showing your limited options after minor damage (Yellow Alert) or major damage (Red Alert).

The hexagonal tiles of the game board

The board itself is made up of hexagonal tiles that are shuffled and then placed face down to create the space between the two factions.  As you move across the board, tiles are flipped revealing the details of that location.  It could be a Class-M planet that you choose to control so you can build an Outpost and have a place to repair damaged ships.  It might be a Class J Nebula or even just Empty Space which also comes with the quote “Space….the final frontier.”  Depending on the speed of your ship, you can move several tiles a turn, but be wary.  There are unfriendly tiles out there that will cause damage to your ship if you remain on them at the end of your turn.

Tribbles Encounter Card

As each tile is flipped, a die is rolled to determine if you must draw an Encounter card. If you do draw a card and win the encounter you earn precious Victory Points which are needed to win the game, but if you fail then there’s trouble.  I ended up with tribbles on one ship after a failed Encounter.  Silly things disabled two of my systems and wreaked havoc on my ability to complete my missions.  I got rid of them by increasing powers to my sensors, playing a Masterful Bluff card to avoid a Klingon ship, and then transporting the tribbles over to the unwitting Klingons before warping out of that sector.  That kind of moment, when you get to do things that feel like they’re right out of the show, makes this game a heck of a lot of fun.

An incredible number of cards and tokens along with the twenty-four ships in this box make this game infinitely replayable.  You get 76 mission cards, some revealed so you have a chance to thwart your opponent but others a secret so you’re left guessing.  There are also 50 Encounter cards and 200 Command cards that can enhance the abilities of your ship.  Each is perfectly themed to the people and items they represent.

Wesley Crusher and Captain Kirk

Command cards give you crew members like Wesley Crusher enhancing engines and shields, Quark adding influence, Spock increasing sensor power and Kirk letting you do the impossible.  It’s exactly what you’d expect of these characters!  Then there are the Encounter cards with the tribbles I mentioned earlier, as well as Dilithium crystals to increase engine speed, Tachyon Pulses to mess with cloaking and Ferengi traders that offer you deals you can’t, but should, refuse.

The gameplay is fun and really gets moving once you’ve had a chance to run through the rules which can be downloaded direct from WizKids before you even make the purchase.  The box says it takes ninety minutes to play and we went just over that on our first time out. It can be played with 2 or 4 players, ages 14 and up, who form up into teams and retails for $100.  Yes, that’s a steep price, but consider the number of ships alone, then add in all the cards and tokens, and it’s not unreasonable.  Also, the huge number of card combinations means this is a different game every time you play and won’t sit in your closet neglected after a few tries.  The replayability and spot-on theming make Star Trek Fleet Captains a great game to add to your collection.


Transformers 3: Why It’s the Best Movie I’ve Seen This Summer

Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon

I did what any red-blooded American did over our holiday weekend. That’s right, I went to see a movie. This was after consuming roughly my own body weight in hamburgers and hot dogs while hanging out with friends all afternoon. I almost didn’t go to see Transformers 3 because it was getting a love it/hate it response from people and I was desperately afraid I’d fall into the hate it camp. There’s nothing as disappointing as walking in to a movie thinking it will be fantastic, but wandering out a few hours later wishing you could get a refund.

We didn’t leave terribly early for this one so when we arrived I was just hoping we’d get seats that weren’t in the very first row. No problem. Ten minutes before it was due to start there were only four other people in the theater. Four. This may have increased my anxiety just a tad since a big movie and an empty theater is generally not a good sign. By the time the movie started there were maybe two dozen of us, clutching our sodas and turning off our phones as the previews started.

Despite all my anxiety, all my worries that I would be terribly disappointed, this is officially the best movie I’ve seen this summer.

Now, now, now before you get all bent out of shape and call me crazy, let me explain. I wanted action. Unrealistic, completely over-the-top, not possible, unsurvivable by mere mortals action. I wanted fighting robots. I wanted fun one-liners and corny comic relief. Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon had all of these things.

I’ve heard complaints that Shia LaBeouf was mopey and didn’t do much for the first half of the movie. Okay, I’ll agree he was a bit mopey but it made sense for his character and there was so much happening around him, so much crazy, that I could forgive the mopey. Also, there is a fantastic car chase where our hero is about to die and Bumblebee morphs from car to bot to car again all while Shia flies through the air letting out a scream worthy of a twelve year old girl. I love him for pulling that off perfectly and making me and everyone else in the theater laugh and will forgive the mopey for that scene alone.

There are also complaints that the action is too drawn out and completely unrealistic. Really? So when you went in for a movie about alien robots that transform into cars and help save our world from destruction, were you really expecting a film firmly rooted in reality? That there’s your problem. This is, at its heart, a Transformers movie. Half the fun of seeing this is watching stuff you know would never work, not even a little, and seeing it, well, work. Sure, the chances you’d survive sliding through the shattered glass of a giant skyscraper without being sliced to bits are very small. It doesn’t matter. They survived and it was awesome.

I’m critical of movies that don’t live up to my expectations, especially when they advertise themselves as one thing but turn out to be something else. That makes me walkaway angry. But Transformers was exactly what it was billed…action, explosions, robots, action and action. My expectations were firmly met and I just held on for the ride. It wasn’t a serious, hard-hitting commentary on the world and the human condition. It was the Transformers doing what they do best. Oh, and one last thing. The voice of Sentinel Prime is Leonard Nimoy. If you happen to be a Star Trek fan, pay close attention to this little fact. LLAP, enjoy the movie, and let me know what you thought of this actionfest.

Torchwood: Captain Jack is Back!

Captain Jack and His Coat

I’m a big fan of Captain Jack Harkness. I think it has lots to do with that coat he always wears. Coats are cool, just like fezzes and bow ties and Stetsons. The only difference is that Captain Jack doesn’t ever tell you his coat is cool. It just is. When I finished watching the last Torchwood series I was very sad that I would be seeing no more of my favorite overly-sexed, wise-cracking, too handsome for his own good, hero.  There was talk about the series returning and about who exactly would come back, but it all seemed to be in that ethereal Never Never Land that holds things like the possibility of new episodes of Firefly. Yet with the unveiling of the new trailer for Torchwood: Miracle Day, it finally feels like this one is going to happen, but will it be any good?

Captain Jack looks good. He’s got his snappy coat and a fabulous little moment in the trailer that is so typically him it made me want to scream for joy. After an explosion sends him and a woman flying out of a window and into a water fountain he smiles, holds out his hand, and introduces himself. Yeah, that’s the Captain Jack I know and love. Even Gwen has a great scene in which she proudly declares herself Welsh and kicks the snot out of a snarky American. This brings up exactly what makes me nervous about what otherwise promises to be the triumphant return of one of my favorite shows. It’s what I like to call “The American Effect.”

The thing is, British programs just aren’t the same as their American counterparts. There are more than a few shows that were hugely successful in their original British incarnations, but that completely fell to pieces and failed to connect once they were remade for an American audience. The one that always comes to mind for me is Coupling which is one of my all-time favorites shows, but whose American version was rightly canceled in just a few episodes. There’s something that gets lost in the translation. Maybe its stuck in that Never Never Land I mentioned earlier. This is what has me nervous about the new Torchwood.

Although this isn’t a remake, but a continuation of the original series. It’s no longer set in Wales. They’ve moved to Los Angeles, which sort of feels like the anti-Wales with all the sun, and there are new American characters. We still have Captain Jack and Gwen, but the rest of the team is new. I’m really hoping they’ve kept the flavor of the original setting and not lost it’s grittiness in the move across the ocean. The previews do look great though, and are more than enough to keep me counting down the days until the series premiere on July 8th. As nervous as I am about the changes, as long as Captain Jack and his cool coat are there, I’ll be watching.

What do you think?  Will the changes improve the show or are they a bit worrisome?

Five Ways to Teach Science With Star Trek

Model of USS Enterprise from The Star Trek Experience, by Flickr user El Miali

When I was in tenth grade, my interest in astronomy collided with a boyfriend who was into Star Trek, just as The Next Generation was ending and Voyager was beginning. Two years later, I decided that I’d taken all the calculus any person needed, but I felt a little guilty not taking any math at all. So I made things even on the cosmic scales of STEM education by signing up for an astronomy class.

That class was taught by a man with a magical cabinet. Behind its doors were rows and rows of VHS tapes holding every episode of every season of every Star Trek series that had aired to date. And they weren’t just for rewards after a tough test or days we had a substitute–he used them to teach science.

At the time, this technique astounded me. A teacher using a TV show to actually teach? But the first half of science fiction is science, and many scientists today point to Star Trek as having inspired them to go into their fields. If I were to list technologies from the show that don’t actually exist, this post would be instantly out of date when somebody invented them tomorrow.

This is not to say, by any stretch, that Star Trek always got the science right. For the most recent movie’s rights and wrongs, read Bad Astronomer Phil Plait’s play-by-play. And NASA has a section of their site devoted to Star Trek. You can read up on technologies from the show and to what extent they exist in reality.

You can pick just about any episode and look for the science on your own. But here are a few to get you started.

  1. Medicine: “Angel One” (TNG)
    If someone asked me the one Star Trek invention I’d like to see in real life, it would probably be the replicator. But easily in second place is the hypospray–I really hate needles. Six years ago, I thought I got my wish when geek news was abuzz with the SonoPrep. Unfortunately, despite that FDA approval, my flu shot this year still came the old-fashioned way. Read more about jet injectors, which are actually older than Star Trek.
  2. Botany: “Parallax” (VOY)
    You’ll sometimes hear someone refer to the hydroponics lab on one of the ships. Deep Space 9 had its own hydroponic garden and an episode that mentioned a conference on the topic. Try building your own hydroponics system.
  3. Stellar cartography: “Lessons” (TNG) or just about any episode of Voyager
    The real-world word for what Star Trek calls “stellar cartography” is “uranography.” Unfortunately, most of us now live in areas with too much light pollution to see the stars well. But even if you can’t see much at night, you have other options. Use SKY-MAP.ORG to find sky objects that you would see, or that someone on the other side of the world is seeing. You can also help astronomers at Zooniverse by identifying galaxies, spotting solar explosions, exploring the moon, and looking for supernovae.
  4. Chemistry: “Rascals” (TNG) and “Cardassians” (DS9)
    Star Trek, like many shows and movies, was full of in-jokes and side humor. One of the best examples is the periodic table visible in these two episodes. They differ slightly from one another but quite a bit from the periodic table we learn about in real-world science class. Scroll through the elements in the Star Trek version of the periodic table and identify the fake elements. It’s also fun to try to guess the joke that led to the name. (Click any in that list to read more about them.) If your budding chemist has already memorized the real periodic table, see if she can spot the different atomic weights on the real elements.
  5. Nanotechnology: “Evolution” (TNG)
    Nanotech has come a long way since Wesley Crusher accidentally terrorized the Enterprise with his lost nanites. At the Project for Emerging Nanotechnologies, you can browse a list of where you’re encountering nanotech every day, from your sunscreen to your washing machine. If you aren’t lucky enough to be a student in Danville, IL classes experimenting with nanotech, try one of these experiments from Science in School.